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Ontario urged to expand COVID testing in schools in wake of 'scary' results at Thorncliffe Park – Toronto Star

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Ontario is being urged to expand testing of staff and students — especially in hot spots — after the first site in Toronto uncovered some 19 cases at one elementary school.

“When it comes to our schools and the safety of our students … we need a robust, fully staffed in-school testing program,” said New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles, her party’s education critic and a former trustee for the Toronto District School Board.

“Why, after all these months, is the government still reacting to this virus instead of listening to the experts, planning ahead and investing the resources necessary to keep our schools open and our students safe?”

Last week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the voluntary, asymptomatic testing program for four areas in the province with high numbers of COVID-19 cases — Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa — leaving it up to boards and their local public health units to determine how to conduct the testing and where.

Toronto’s public and Catholic boards have announced initial locations for the testing, which began last Thursday at Thorncliffe Park elementary, where the 19 cases, including 18 students and one staff member, were found on that first day. Testing was to continue this week.

The board and public health have said the school does not need to be shut down because the cases were not transmitted in the school but rather the community, which has a much higher positivity rate.

Stiles said the province “has asked businesses to close, people have been asked to spend more and more time away from their families, and we owe it to staff and students and their families to test as much as possible.”

And, she added, “to me, the issue is protecting staff and students by knowing the extent” of COVID-19 cases, especially after the holiday break. “If we are going to have a safe and orderly return to class this New Year, we need to know exactly how many students have COVID.”

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the 19 cases found at Thorncliffe Park is a “scary number” and shows the government should have started sooner.

“This will give parents a lot of anxiety,” he told reporters. “Ontario’s not been testing the way that we should be … this government’s really late to the game.”

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the result at Thorncliffe Park “highlights the need for additional testing, particularly in hot spot areas.”

In York Region, public health is working with the two local boards — public and Catholic — on school-based testing and hopes to reach about 4,000 students over the next three weeks, said Scott Cholewa, manager of infectious disease control.

It has designated 30 schools to target, and will be holding testing after school hours in local high schools. Some will be areas with recent or current cases, and some in areas where schools have had no cases — which it will use as a control group of sorts to “get a sense of baseline, asymptomatic positive level” — and areas that are “testing deserts” in the region, notably King Township and Georgina.

High schools were chosen as testing locations because “they have gyms, and have outside access or are larger and can accommodate people, and the structure can allow one way in, one way out, and no mixing of individuals who come in for testing,” Cholewa said, but both elementary and secondary students will be eligible.

Saliva testing will be used, “which is a less intrusive form of testing” then the typical nasopharyngeal swab, but with comparable accuracy, he added.

He said two different school testing sites will be set up this week, two the following week and the week before the holidays will have three sites.

Lecce said the provincial testing program is already working, given the findings at Thorncliffe Park school.

“Identifying COVID cases, isolating them or moving them from the school, so we don’t have spreaders within the school. That is what the program is designed to do. It is what is taking place,” he said.

As well, he added “part of the benefit of having asymptomatic testing in those high-risk communities … is to provide us with more data to better understand not just where the risk is, but how we could further counter it.”

Stiles said she and MPP France Gélinas, her party’s health care critic, urged a province-wide school surveillance program in the summer and “it never happened.”

She said she can’t understand what took the government so long to act.

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Lecce, however, noted that “there are 86 per cent of schools in this province that have no active case at all” and that the province continues to announce “additional surge funding” for schools in areas with growing COVID cases.

Provincial statistics released Monday show that 670 or 14 per cent of the 4,828 schools have known cases of COVID-19, but the Thorncliffe results are throwing that statistic into question.

Four schools in Ontario are now closed because of outbreaks.  

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Sanofi-GSK report positive interim results for their COVID-19 shot

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An experimental COVID-19 vaccine developed by Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline showed a robust immune response in early-stage clinical trial results, enabling them to move to a late-stage study, the French drugmaker said on Monday.

Sanofi and Britain’s GSK said a global Phase III trial would start in the coming weeks and involve more than 35,000 adults, with the hope of seeing the vaccine approved by the fourth quarter after having initially targeted the first half of this year before a setback.

Sanofi and GSK last December were forced to restart their trial when the vaccine showed a low immune response in older adults as a result of a weak antigen formulation.

Sanofi and GSK shares were little changed in early trading.

“The Phase II interim results showed 95% to 100% seroconversion following a second injection in all age groups and across all doses, with acceptable tolerability and no safety concerns,” Sanofi said.

Seroconversion refers to the vaccine’s ability to prompt the body to produce antibodies against the coronavirus, as measured by blood readings. Later mass trials will be based on real infections.

“Interestingly, we also observed that our vaccine generated a higher antibody response in those with previous COVID-19 infection, we are analysing this further as it may suggest our vaccine could serve as a potential booster, regardless of what vaccine someone may have received (beforehand),” Su-Peing Ng, Sanofi’s global head of medical for vaccines, told reporters.

Ng said the vaccine had not been tested against so-called variants in the Phase II trial but that the Phase III study would be assessing it against various strains including a virus lineage known as B.1.351 first detected in South Africa.

But Sanofi, Ng said, has conducted parallel studies evaluating its vaccines against variants, with results expected to be published soon.

GSK and Sanofi’s vaccine candidate uses the same technology as one of Sanofi’s seasonal influenza vaccines. It will be coupled with an adjuvant, a substance that acts as a booster to the shot, made by GSK.

‘QUITE A POTENTIAL’

Some 162.75 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019, while economies have taken a hit and restrictions have turned daily life upside down.

The United States and Europe have embarked on mass vaccinations programmes in the past months, raising hopes of a gradual reopening, although the virus is still in circulation in many regions, with variants causing concern.

Last month, the European Union executive’s President Ursula von der Leyen said protein-based COVID-19 vaccines such as the one developed by Sanofi and GSK offered “quite a potential”, a positive signal as the bloc develops its purchasing strategy for the next two years.

Sanofi’s shot, however, even if approved, will come long after ones from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which have produced efficacy results of more than 90%.

So far, Sanofi has purchasing agreements with the United States, the EU, Britain and Canada, as well as with the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility.

The company has pledged to help other drugmakers this year, striking “fill and finish” deals for vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

In addition to its vaccine project in collaboration with GSK, Sanofi is working on a mRNA candidate with U.S. company Translate Bio for which it has started clinical trials.

 

(Reporting by Matthias Blamont; editing by Louise Heavens and Jason Neely)

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Worldwide coronavirus cases cross 161.42 million, death toll at 3,488,751

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More than 161.42 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 3,488,751​ have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/2FThSv7 in an external browser.

Eikon users can click  for a case tracker.

The following table lists the top 50 countries by the number of reported cases. A complete list is available with the above links.

COUNTRIES AND TOTAL DEATHS CONFIRMED DEATHS PER

TERRITORIES CASES 10,000

INHABITANTS

United States 584,768 32,926,288 17.9

India 262,317 24,046,809 1.94

Brazil 430,417 15,433,989 20.55

France 107,423 5,848,154 16.04

Turkey 44,301 5,095,390 5.38

Russia 254,590 4,922,901 17.62

United Kingdom 127,668 4,446,824 19.21

Italy 123,927 4,146,722 20.51

Spain 79,339 3,604,799 16.95

Germany 85,903 3,579,871 10.36

Argentina 69,254 3,242,103 15.56

Colombia 79,760 3,067,879 16.06

Poland 71,311 2,849,014 18.78

Iran 76,433 2,732,152 9.34

Mexico 219,901 2,375,115 17.43

Ukraine 47,620 2,143,448 10.67

Peru 65,316 1,873,316 20.02

Indonesia 47,823 1,734,285 1.79

Czech Republic 29,857 1,651,178 28.09

South Africa 55,012 1,605,252 9.52

Netherlands 17,423 1,589,282 10.11

Canada 24,825 1,312,408 6.7

Chile 27,520 1,266,601 14.69

Iraq 15,910 1,134,859 4.14

Philippines 18,958 1,131,467 1.78

Romania 29,413 1,070,605 15.11

Sweden 14,275 1,037,126 14.03

Belgium 24,645 1,026,473 21.56

Pakistan 19,384 873,220 0.91

Portugal 16,999 841,379 16.53

Israel 6,379 839,076 7.18

Hungary 29,041 796,390 29.71

Bangladesh 12,102 779,535 0.75

Jordan 9,203 722,754 9.24

Serbia 6,646 705,185 9.52

Switzerland 10,179 679,510 11.96

Japan 11,396 673,821 0.9

Austria 10,455 635,780 11.83

United Arab Emirates 1,626 543,610 1.69

Lebanon 7,569 534,968 11.05

Morocco 9,091 514,670 2.52

Malaysia 1,822 462,190 0.58

Nepal 4,669 439,658 1.66

Saudi Arabia 7,134 431,432 2.12

Bulgaria 17,194 413,320 24.48

Ecuador 19,442 405,783 11.38

Slovakia 12,168 387,162 22.34

Greece 11,322 373,881 10.55

Belarus 2,681 373,351 2.83

Panama 6,288 369,455 15.05

Source: Reuters tally based on statements from health ministries and government officials

Generated at 10:00 GMT.

 

(Editing by David Clarke)

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Canada plots course to fully vaccinated return to gatherings in fall

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Canada on Friday said there would be a gradual return to a world with indoor sports and family gatherings as more people get vaccinated, but it did not go as far as the United States in telling people they could eventually ditch their masks.

Canada has administered one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to just over half its adult population, and the country may be over the worst of its current third wave of infections, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said.

On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, guidance the agency said will allow life to begin to return to normal.

On Friday, Canada‘s public health agency offered guidelines to the 10 provinces, which are responsible for public health restrictions.

The agency says once 75% of Canadians have had a single dose and 20% are fully vaccinated, some restrictions can be relaxed to allow small, outdoor gatherings with family and friends, camping, and picnics.

Once 75% of those eligible are fully vaccinated in the fall, indoor sports and family gatherings can be allowed again.

“I think masks might be the last layer of that multi-layer protection that we’ll advise people to remove,” Tam told reporters, noting that in Canada colder temperatures meant people would start spending more time indoors in the fall.

“We are taking a bit of a different approach to the United States,” she added. While in most of Canada masks are not required outdoors, they are mandatory indoors.

Less than 4% of Canada‘s adult population has been fully vaccinated compared to more than 36% of Americans.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has promised that everyone who wants to can be fully vaccinated by September, this week spoke of a “one-dose summer” and a “two-dose fall” without explaining what that might look like.

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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